Saturday, January 24, 2009

Traditional Medicine - The Threat of Biodiversity Loss

New Scientist magazine has recently reported on the threat to traditional medicines and global health posed by loss of biodiversity and extinction of species of medicinal plants.

Traditional medicinal plants are threatened by the global alternative medicines boom, and are being over-harvested resulting in loss of diversity. Traditional medicine is the main source of medicine for many regions of the world, with the World Health Organization (WHO) recording that in some Asian and African countries, as much as 80% of the population relies on traditional medicine in their primary health care.

Plantlife's Medicinal Plants Conservation Initiative (MPCI) published a report this month suggesting that almost a third of medicinal plants could become extinct if the use is not regulated. The report recommends, among other things, cooperation with local communities having knowledge and interest in medicinal plants in order to link development to conservation and use. The report describes the relationship between the supply of medicinal plants to community benefits in health care, income and cultural traditions.

Sara Oldfield, the Secretary General of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which published a report in 2007 on the conservation of medicinal plants and the role of botanical gardens, describes the problem as a "quiet disaster."

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